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The History of Sears Predicts Nearly Everything Amazon Is Doing

Amazon began as an online book store. It expanded to sell everything, services as well as goods. Then it opened its own brick-and-mortar bookstores, eleven of them so far. Then this summer, Amazon bought Whole Foods, which has 400 physical locations. These same things happened with another retailer that started out over 100 years ago: Sears, Roebuck & Company.

From its founding in the late 19th century to its world-famous catalog, the history of Sears, Roebuck & Company is well known. Less storied is its magnificently successful transition from a mailing company to a brick-and-mortar giant. Like Amazon among its online-shopping rivals, Sears was not the country’s first mail-order retailer, but it became the largest of its kind. Like Amazon, it started with a single product category—watches, rather than books. But, like Amazon, the company grew to include a range of products, including guns, gramophones, cars, and even groceries.

From the start, Sears’s genius was to market itself to consumers as an everything store, with an unrivaled range of products, often sold for minuscule profits. The company’s feel for consumer demand was so uncanny, and its operations so efficient, that it became, for many of its diehard customers, not just the best retail option, but the only one worth considering.

The steps -and missteps- that Sears took along the way to where it is now mirror what Amazon is going through. Read a comparison of the two companies in two different centuries at the Atlantic. -via Digg


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